Despite the prevalence of email in business communications, the traditional paper letter still holds value. When writing a business letter there are many important segments and selecting a salutation to greet a recipient when writing a business letter is one of the parts of the letter to consider.
When you choose your salutation when writing a business letter it is important to select your words carefully because you want to make sure this introductory portion of the letter is just right. A recipient who receives a letter with a strong and appropriate salutation is bound to react more positively to whatever is contained in the body of the letter. Consequently, a badly chosen salutation can easily weaken the impact of the letter and hurt the effectiveness of the message.
Since the salutation you choose is a part of the opening of the letter, you want the tone to be suitable as well. Here are a few tips for choosing which type of salutations to use when writing business letters:
How to Decide
The relationship you have with the recipient is going to be the primary consideration when deciding the way you want to address the receiver. It is important to think about how well you know the person you are writing to and whether or not you are on a formal or informal basis. Whether or not you know a person’s name is also going to play into the decision making process of choosing a great salutation. If you know the recipient’s name it will be easier to address, but if not, there are appropriate formats to choose from.
Gender is also another important consideration. It is appropriate to use gender in correspondence, but embarrassing if you get it wrong. Be sure and do your homework before you send the letter to be sure you are correct. It is important to note that you may not always know the gender, and if this is the case, don’t fret, there are ways around this too.
Once you determine the relationship, name, and gender of the recipient you can move on to consider what level of formality you want to use to address the individual who will be receiving the correspondence.
If you’ve determined the person you are corresponding with is someone you don’t know very well, you’ll want to go more formal in your salutation. Salutations that are considered to be formal are customary ones such as “Dear” prefacing any name; i.e. “Dear Mr. Constantine” or “Dear Ms. Clementine” are completely appropriate as a formal salutation.
It is important to note you should never address a person you do not know by their first name, always use a title preface to their last name and follow this with a colon. Examples of this are “Dear Senator Tuttle:” or “Dear Dr. Flanders:” Some other common titles you might see are military, government, clergy, or education titles and it is suitable to use these if you are certain the recipient holds a title.
Salutations for people you know well or have established relationships with can be more casual in a business letter salutation. Colleagues you work closely with can be worded such as “Dear Frank”, “Good morning Peter” or even a very casual “Hi Karen” if the relationship is appropriate. Colons are primarily used in business correspondences, but if the letter is an extremely casual note to a well-known associate, it is acceptable to use a comma.
Unknown Name or Gender
While it’s a bit more awkward to address a letter when you don’t know the individual’s name and/or gender, there are ways around this that are considered in good etiquette. Acceptable salutations for individuals you don’t know their name or gender can be addressed in ways such as “Dear Sales Manager” or “Dear Customer”; both of these salutations should always be followed by a colon.
If you are unsure of the recipient’s gender, you can use their full name. For instance “Dear Pat Smith” is acceptable. In some cases you may not know either the name or gender, so you may have to use the old standby “Dear Sir or Madam”; the latter salutation is used less and less these days, but it’s better than none at all.
Regardless to which kind of salutation used it is important to keep form in mind. Always capitalize the greeting “Dear” and the name and/or title of your recipient. Also the salutation follows the inside address, be sure and leave one extra space in between the inside address and the salutation.
Salutations are not hard to write, however it is important to determine the relationship, level of formality and form. Once you get these decided, choosing the correct and appropriate salutation is an easy task.
Leigh has been writing on the web since 2007. She has a high interest in business, tech, higher education, and Washington D.C. and Northern Virginia travel, but loves to write about a variety of topics. In addition to writing on Writedge, she also runs a blog about the Washington DC Metro Area and a photography blog Photos by Leigh Goessl.